"Flight Shame" Takes Off as the Buzzword of Summer

Airplane pollutionFumes from an airplane's exhaust nozzle
Tigristiara/Dreamstime

"Flight shame" is on the rise as awareness of the airline industry's carbon footprint grows.

Eco-conscious Swedes are opting for train travel over flight, and trying to make the rest of the world do the same.

There are entire websites devoted to foreign language words that have no direct English translation. Shadenfreude—taking pleasure in others’ misery—is perhaps the most familiar example. Or consider cavoli riscaldati, the Italian term for attempting to rejuvenate an unworkable relationship (literally: reheated cabbage). When a person from the Philippines has the urge to pinch something adorable, he has gigil. Now there’s a new term making its way into the lingua franca, the Swedish word flygskam. Translation: flight shame.

A record of climate change activism

The term—and concept—is the product of increased awareness of the environmental impact of flying. Considering the conscientiously eco-minded behavior in Scandinavian countries like Sweden, it’s become slightly taboo to board a flight. This is the culture, after all, that gave us Greta Tintin Eleonora Ernman Thunberg, the activist who made international headlines when, in 2018, at the age of 15, she camped outside Sweden’s parliament building with a sign that read “School strike for climate,” an act that inspired her peers to get more engaged in activism around climate change.

Sweden has instituted an aggressive plan to be carbon-neutral by 2045, a fact that puts its history of frequent air travel in stark relief. According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the nation’s aviation sector accounted for 1.1 tons of emission per person, five times the global average. It’s not a habit that’s easy to break, either. According to the United Nations, if initiatives to cut other CO2-emitting industries come to fruition, aviation will be the single largest culprit within 30 years.

The impact of social media

When it comes to drawing attention, few tactic work better than social media. On Instagram, @aningslosaininfluencers (translation: “clueless influencer”) chronicles the activity of celebrities who fly too often and too pretentiously. The account has more than 60,000 followers. However, unlike so many disparaging trends on social media, this one has an equal and opposite positive movement. Another new term, tagskryt, has taken hold as a response. Literally “train-bragging,” it’s Swedes’ way of broadcasting their pride in their green effort to opt for the train over flying. The Facebook group Tågsemester.nu has almost 14,000 members who post tips and tales of their train travels. Its Instagram account is packed with photos of people enjoying nature at eye-level, certainly something you can’t enjoy at 38,000 feet.

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